Oregon Republicans are criticizing a new policy that forbids most state employees with licenses to carry concealed handguns from bringing guns to work, except for state police and others whose jobs require it.

The policy, put forth by Gov. Kate Brown’s administrative department with her support, took effect Jan. 6 with little fanfare. Within days, Republican lawmakers in the state Senate and House issued a press release and took to social media to criticize it.

“The governor’s administration has no business confiscating self-defense rights from public servants, volunteers and others, who have committed themselves to serving our state,” Senate Minority Leader Ted Ferrioli, R-John Day, said in a statement.

People with concealed carry licenses who don’t work for the state can still bring their firearms when visiting state offices.

The state adopted the policy in response to questions from employees who were unsure what to do when they encountered coworkers or visitors “who were either openly carrying a firearm or who were carrying a concealed firearm that was somehow exposed,” according to a memorandum from Oregon’s Department of Administrative Services. The department handles human resources for many state agencies.

House Minority Leader Mike McLane, R-Powell Butte, said he will ask Brown to explain the legal basis for the new policy and, if necessary, reverse it.

“I am extremely concerned to learn that our state government has taken steps that limit employees’ right to self-defense and believe that these actions may violate the Oregon Constitution,” McLane said in a statement.

Oregon’s Court of Appeals has ruled that public employers have the right to bar their workers from bringing guns to work, even when they have the proper license to do so, as a condition of their employment. It made that ruling in the case of a Medford teacher who said she needed a gun at work for self-defense against her ex-husband.

The new state policy applies to all executive branch state agencies and employees, most of whom report to the governor. Other statewide elected officials, such as the secretary of state and attorney general, also oversee their own offices in the executive branch. The policy does not apply to employees in the judicial and legislative branches.

It’s illegal in Oregon to bring a gun or any other “dangerous weapon” into a court or other public building, unless the carrier has a concealed handgun license.

Brown supports the new concealed handgun ban, which her press secretary Chris Pair described as a clarification of existing state policy.

“This HR policy has been in development by (the Department of Administrative Services), in collaboration with state agency directors, for some time and Governor Brown supports the clarification of a state policy that has been in place for almost 20 years,” Pair wrote in an email.

Oregon’s Department of Administrative Services, which handles human resources for many state agencies, had a policy prohibiting guns and other weapons at state buildings since 1998, according to the department. However, that policy didn’t specifically address employees with licenses to carry concealed firearms.

Preston Mann, a spokesman for House Republicans, said the caucus’ legal director was told by the administrative department’s government relations director that state employees with concealed handgun licenses could bring their guns to work until prior to the new policy taking effect Jan. 6. A spokesman for the agency could not be reached for comment late Friday afternoon, nor on Monday, a state holiday.

— Hillary Borrud

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(c)2017 The Oregonian (Portland, Ore.)

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